Visiting Wat Phu and the Bolaven plateau
Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
86Trip End Apr 01, 2012
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Champasak is a small, sleepy town spread along the Mekong. I think it’s former glory days were when the royal family had a residence there but that has long been forgotten and the town is left with a half finished palace and some nice but old French colonial buildings. A quick walk round town show us that there isn’t much buzz to the place and so we won’t be staying long. Our evening is spent overlooking the river chatting to the other couple that arrived at the same time as us.
Next day we’re up relatively early to hire bikes and cycle out to a nearby temple
Even with our best intentions, we end up cycling back in the peak heat of the afternoon and so it takes us the rest of the afternoon to recover. In the evening, one of my friends from work pops up in Champasak – all very random but as we’re travelling north and knew he was travelling south we hoped we would cross paths. So we spend our evening catching up until the restaurant we are in closes up at 9.30pm and chucks us out. Don’t think there will be much partying in Laos then....
Next day we get the local bus to Pakse, which is not really a bus more like a tuk tuk trailer on the back of the van but it’s only an hour journey and it’s open air at least. In Pakse we stay at Sabaidy Guesthouse which seems to be a busy place and the nicest we’ve stayed in for the past few days, however we can’t complain about anywhere as we’re down to about $6 a night which is pretty cheap. There is some confusion at the guesthouse when we arrive, as there is a power cut and the staff aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves as they can’t watch tv. They settle for talking amongst themselves but it doesn’t seem natural! There’s not too much to Pakse either, although it is a good bit bigger than anywhere we’ve been for the past few days. There is a choice of restaurants, plastic chairs set up along the river front for beers and many coffee shops as we’re in the coffee region of Laos, the Bolaven Plateau. One of the coffee shops in particular, called Bolaven Coffee, provides an interesting story on how the local farmers (with the help of the owner of this business) have switched from making low grade robusta coffee to making high quality Arabica coffee. They are now part of fair trade agreements and work to having their own land which means they have a sustainable living and look after the land rather than use slash and burn farming techniques.
It’s a pretty tough day today, after trying out a few different coffee shops we go for a Laos traditional massage. We are led into a room with cubicles separated by curtains (open plan massage rooms seem to be how legitimate massage places keep it that way) and get changed into 'massage appropriate’ clothing i.e. light baggy trousers and shirts. Our masseuses then begin their work, going for pressure points and lots of stretching using their feet, legs, arms to pull our muscles etc. I’m not sure I would call it a relaxing hour but it did feel beneficial! Afterwards we head for drinks on a hotel rooftop bar and then go for an Indian dinner. They certainly can make naan bread here but the curries do lack spice which is strange as Laos food is spicy – we might give up on Indian food for the rest of our time here.
Next day we are on a tour out to the Bolaven plateau with five other people to see plantations, villages and waterfalls. First stop is a tea plantation where we get a bit of a tour, tea tasting and to meet the owner who is on the picture of all the Sihouk tea packages. Next stop is to see a waterfall which we can’t even see the bottom of, think it’s a 200 m drop. Our guide plays with an usual spider he finds, letting it run all over him. ‘So it doesn’t bite?’ we ask, ‘yes it bites, but not dangerous, like an ant bite’, don’t think I’ll be let it run over my head then like he does
We then stopped off for lunch at a local restaurant where I went for Laap – a traditional Lao dish of minced chicken with lemon juices and herbs along with sticky rice, tasty enough but I won’t be asking what parts of the chicken I ate.....Jonny had a bit safer chicken and noodles.
We then went on to visit another tribe called Katou tribe. Here the guide explained to us this tribe’s belief which is more or less centred on the making of coffins. Once a child reaches the age of 15, a coffin was made for the child so that child lives a long life. And so we can see coffins stacked up underneath the houses of each family. He also explained that when someone is ill they take the coffin into the house and lay it next to them, this usually has the desired effect of making that person better
We then go onto visit the school which this tour helps fund along with several other contributors. It’s a Saturday and so there are no children there but the owner of the hostel and a group of people are there installing electricity which suggests that some of our money will in fact be donated to the school. Our final stop in the village is the library which is also funded by donations and our guide takes us to see the casings of bombs dropped in the surrounding area in the so called ‘Secret War’, the US have labelled them ‘US Air Force’ which is helpful for identifying them
We also visit another couple of waterfalls, one of which is in a strange fake village which is actually just a lot of stalls selling traditional clothing items. Apparently it’s popular with Thai coach tours....
After a very busy day we opt for some drinks on the plastic stools set up by the riverside and head to a restaurant for some pasta (every time we eat Western food we feel a bit guilty but do need the change every so often). At least we do experience true Laos culture though, as at 9pm on the dot they start closing up, stacking up chairs and tables and closing shutters. Our waitress is truly gutted that we made her stay until 9.07 so we could finish our beers before leaving. They don’t work late here and half the waitresses have left before us but then I suppose they do start early so we’ll let them off.